Last Licks Photos by Bettina Monique Chavez. Top: Pie 'N Burger; Bottom: Kabuki

Last licks

A hand-picked meal for the very end of the line

By Dan O'Heron 07/21/2011

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Let’s say that this is one of those moving moments — I’m on Death Row. They’re going to retire my number. 
The warden, looking directly at my foot, says, “Dan, it’s that time. You can have anything you want to eat and all you want.” I turn to the chaplain nearby and say, “But that’s gluttony, father, a deadly sin. Will I have to go to confession again?”
“No one will know, my son.”
“God will,” I say.
“Not if we don’t tell him,” says the priest, flipping open an order pad.
Since I don’t have to haggle over the price, there will be no simple dinner salad. I decide on the “Dianne” salad from Green Street Restaurant, 140 Shoppers Lane, Pasadena, (626) 577-7170. What a way to start: poached chunks of chicken in a filigree of glassy noodles, served on a bed of crunchy iceberg lettuce with toasted almond slivers and sesame seeds. The recipe for the sweet and tangy dressing is so secret that no one person in the kitchen knows the whole formula. I know it, but where I’m at, we don’t sing. 

By ordering a cold fruity soup at Julienne, 2649 Mission St., San Marino, (626) 441-2290, I might recall the sunshine of my happy days as a juvenile delinquent, when the sticky-sweet juices of stolen peaches dribbled down my chin. But I’m hungry, so I order gazpacho instead. 
Not pureed to a piddling, as some restaurants do it, Julienne’s gazpacho is more rough-edged with chunks of celery and cucumber, diced fresh tomatoes and spikes of Tabasco, cilantro salt and pepper. Adding creaminess to the crunch, an avocado floats atop pure tomato juice. Forget that the soup looks like an accident took place in an aquarium — there’s nothing better in a bowl. 

You’d think that by nature this all-American criminal would crave a porterhouse, one that is slab thick with marble peeking through a charred crust covering a juicy pink interior. But in my last days on the outside, I discovered wine and food pairing rituals more inviting than a simple bull-necked steak. For the taste I crave, there’s not a more addictive combo than the sake (rice wine) and sashimi as served at Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, 88 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 568-9310.
Similar to classic wine tasting, I remember swirling medium-bodied “mizabacho” sake in the glass, sniffing its bouquet before tonguing a small sip around in my mouth. This exercise cleansed my palate of all previous flavors. Then, before the first real swallow, I’d inhale through a sake-soaked mouth (think, whistling backwards) before breathing the lung-warmed fumes out of my nose. Ouch!
Aaah, the pain was worth it. Clearly, when ideal reciprocal flavors like these at Kabuki are brought together, the two combine for a gastronomical treat more delicious than either alone could provide. 
It helps that half of the treat is big and beautiful. Generously portioned, dewily glistening sashimi morsels of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and halibut — on a bed of sparkling ice — are petaled with edible purple orchids. Garnishes include a delicate cup made out of cucumber, filled with gleaming green wasabi stems and clumps of white ginger. Being forced to destroy such a beautiful setting with chopsticks borders on vandalism. But now that I think of it, I guess I’ve been good at that, among other crimes of passion.

Longing for an aroma as delightful as my grandma’s hot bread or clean laundry, my thoughts turn to apple pie à la mode from Pie ‘N Burger, 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-1123. Here, tart and crisp Granny Smith fresh apples are delivered daily, peeled and cored. Popping out of the oven, enclosed in a flaky golden crust, this pie is one thing that transforms earth into a sort of heaven. I only hope that transformation is possible for me here and now. 

Wait! I’m allowed a late-night snack? Well, then I choose the honey walnut shrimp dinner from Wokcano, 33 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 578-1818. It is remembered that in good old Pasadena, this restaurant served complete dinners at the latest possible hour. However, sadly, it gets me to thinking about how my mom used to give me milk and cookies before I’d go to sleep. Now I am ready for the big sleep. 
Sayonara, dear readers ... 


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